After writing plenty of blog posts in March and April on the theme of having ADHD during lockdown, you might notice that I’ve dialed it back on the coronavirus-themed posts lately.
That’s partly because of general COVID-19 media overload and partly because, at least for the moment, I don’t think I have much more useful to contribute on the topic of having ADHD “in the time of coronavirus,” as they say.
But today a study came out that deserves for me to break my coronavirus hiatus. In a paper titled ADHD as a Risk Factor for Infection With COVID-19, researchers in Israel showed, well, that ADHD is a risk factor for infection with COVID-19.
They did that by analyzing 14,022 COVID-19 tests administered across the months of March, April and May. A little over 10 percent of those tests came back positive, but the big news is that rates of ADHD were significantly higher among the group that tested positive (16.24 percent) than among the group that tested negative (11.65 percent) suggesting that ADHDers were more likely to get COVID-19. The pattern was especially pronounced among people with untreated ADHD.
My first thought on seeing this study was that maybe people with ADHD are more likely to have essential jobs, but the researchers at least partly accounted for that explanation by controlling for socioeconomic status. They also controlled for demographic variables like gender and age.
What’s also interesting is that the pattern for ADHD and COVID-19 was opposite that of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, which were actually associated with lower risk of testing positive for COVID-19.
All that suggests there’s something specifically about having ADHD that puts people at higher risk for becoming sick with COVID-19.
One explanation put forward by the authors of the study is that people with ADHD might be more more inclined to take risks such as coming into close contact with other people or attending mass gatherings.
The fact that interacting with other people and attending group events are now considered “risky behaviors” is a sign of just how weird 2020 has gotten, but risky is now what these things are.
And people with ADHD do balance risk and reward differently. They tend to prioritize short-term rewards, sometimes at the cost of thinking through long-term consequences. You can see how that tendency could, in fact, raise their chances of getting COVID-19.
Some other speculative explanations I’ll put forward are that ADHDers might inattentively engage in behaviors that expose them to risk, or that their hyperactivity and need for stimulation might make them adhere less closely to recommendations to stay at home.
Since the study didn’t show a cause-and-effect between ADHD and COVID-19 risk, it’s also possible that there are other variables not considered that account for the findings.
In any case, though, the study seems like a good reminder to all of us with ADHD: this is an important time to be aware that we sometimes have a weakness when it comes to thinking through long-term consequences. Fellow ADHDers, remember to follow public health recommendations, and stay safe out there!